Semiotic analysis of Yorùbá written poetry. "Orin Ewúro" by Àtàrí Àjànàkú

Master's Thesis, 2016
97 Pages, Grade: 70%



Chapter 1 Introduction
1.1 Background to the Study
1.2 Statement of the Problem
1.3 Objective of the Study
1.4 Research Questions
1.5 Significance of the Study
1.6 Scope of the Study
1.7 Research Methodology
1.8 Limitation of the Study

2.1 The Sociological Importance of Poetry
2.2 The Place of Semiotics in Literary Criticism
2.3 The Review of Existing Literature on Orin Ewúro

3.1 Natural Signs
3.1.1 Ewúro (Bitter leaf: Vernonia amygdalina)
3.1.2 Òṣùpá (The Moon)
3.1.3 Èèbù (Yam Seedling)
3.1.4 Main Division of the Day and their Correspondence to Human Life Stages (kùtù hàì/ àárọ̀, ìyálẹ̀ta, òòrùn kàntàrí and ọjọ́ rọ̀)
3.1.5 Ọyẹ́ (Harmattan Season)
3.2 Socio-Cultural Signs
3.2.1 Behavioural Code: Àgbà Láńgbá (An Irresponsible Elder)
3.2.2 Commodity Code: Agbọ̀n (A basket)
3.2.3 Behavioural Code: Orogún (A Rival)
3.2.4 Commodity Code: Àràbà (A white silk cotton tree)
3.2.5 Behavioural Code: ‘Ìjankúkujàn’ (A disastrous fall)
3.3 Political Signs
3.3.1 Àwòrán Ìgbà̀: The Picture of the Time/Period
3.3.2 Ẹkùn, Ológbò and Èkúte (Leopard, cat and mouse)
3.3.3 Bàbá Igi dá and Bàbá alábàṣà (The Destructive Fathers/Leaders)
3.3.4 Aláṣọ Dúdú, and Oníkakí (The Wearer of Black cloth and the Wearer of Khaki)
3.3.5 Àdán (A bat)
3.4 Economic Signs
3.4.1 Ẹ̀gúnjẹ and Àgúnmu (Bribe and panacea of the society)
3.4.2 Wàrà, Oyin, Mùdùnmúdùn, Omi, Epo and Ìyeyè (Milk, honey, marrow, water, oil and spondias monbin)
3.4.3 Àdáàkó Àjọ (Unclaimed daily contribution)
3.4.4 3.4.4 Kòkòrò (An insect)
3.4.5 Mu ẹ̀kọ, gbé ẹsẹ̀, ya aràrá (Drinking pap, to take steps and become a dwarf)

4.1 Religious Signs
4.1.1 Traditional Religious Signs
4.1.2 Christian Religious Signs
4.2 Educational Signs
4.2.1 Ọwọ́ Ọ̀tún and Ọwọ́ Òsì (Right and left hands)
4.2.2 Odù Ìmọ̀ (A database of knowledge)
4.2.3 Àràbà, Àkàsọ̀ ìmọ̀, Ewé ńlá, and Ìtẹ́ àga and ìmọ̀ (A white silk cotton tree, a ladder of knowledge, a big leaf, a throne and a throne of knowledge)
4.2.4 Abẹ́rẹ́ Ahọ́n (A Niddle of Tongue)
4.2.5 Ìkòrò and Ìṣìn Wẹ́wẹ́ (The big fish and the fingerlings)
4.3 Literary Aesthetic Signs
4.3.1 Adaptation of Oral Genre
4.3.2 The Use of Symbolic Wordplay
4.3.3 The Use of Structural Repetition
4.3.4 Multiple Uses of Rhetorical Questions
4.3.5 Addressing an Imaginary Audience and Object
4.4 Non-Literary Aesthetic Signs
4.4.1 The Illustration of an Elephant at the Front of the Front Cover Page
4.4.2 The Illustration of “Àwòrán Ìgbà̀” (The Contemporary Time)
4.4.3 The Illustration of ‘Ẹ̀gúnjẹ ò ba nǹkan jẹ́’ (Ẹ̀gúnjẹ spoils nothing)
4.4.4 The Illustration of Bàbá Igi Dá Ìyá Ẹyẹ Fò (Carefree father, Neglectful
4.4.5 The Illustration of Àjọ Àdáàkó (The daily unretrievable money contribution)

5.1 Summary
5.2 Conclusion
5.3 Findings and Contributions to Knowledge
5.4 Recommendation





I dedicate this work to my parents, particularly my father, late Chief KÍARÍBẸ̀Ẹ́ DÚRÓWOJÚ ÀLÀDÉ;

Kíaríbẹ̀ẹ́ ọmọ Òkétọ̀bi

Àlàdé ọmọ Òkétàwẹ

Kíarí ọmọ Ọlákonu

Àlàdé ọmọ Ìyá Òrìṣà

Aróówé ọmọ Adítán- o-tóó-mẹmu

Ará Owé mòjé Ànọ́nọ́

Ará Owé mòjé àṣo

Mòjé sàn-án ọmọ Arìnmáṣìnà

Ó di gbéré

And to my late dear mother, Mrs, Safurat Iyab ọde Abikẹ

Sàfú Àbíkẹ́ ọmọ Ọlọ́yẹ́moyin

Ọmọ Ọlọ́yẹ́ Àjíbọ̀kè

Ọmọ Ọlọ́yẹ́ẹ Jáakanjáakan

Ọmọ Arówóṣèlù Ìbààpá

Ọmọ Àkànjí tó kẹ̀yìn sọ́rọ̀

Tí ò lówó nínú

Bóbá dọ̀rọ̀ Ìbàdàn níí kan Onílàdó

Bó bá dibi owó

A ní Baba Kékéré máá kálọ

Abíkẹ́ sùn un r


In the name of the Almighty ALLAH, the most Gracious and Merciful, I give all praise and adoration to the Owner of the universe and the Sustainer of life.

I am using this medium to acknowledge the management and the authority of the University of Ibadan for giving me scholarship for this programme. It is a good step from them; may they remain in peace, improve in prosperity and develop to the level of world best university. Also, I want to thank both the teaching and non-teaching staffs and the students of the department of Linguistics and African Languages for the love and support they have rendered towards the successful completion of this programme. Besides, I appreciate the immense contributions of the Head of the Department, Professor Adejumo, Arinpe who is a nice woman that loves to help the needy without being greedy. May your tenure of office continue to be a blessing to the Department.

I would be an ingrate if I fail to acknowledge and appreciate my supervisor’s tireless efforts; a boss like a father, the lover of goodness, the setter of pace who developed the mind of criticism in me, the person I always try to emulate, in person of Professor Phillip Adedotun Ogundeji. May Allah make your years long, full of happiness and prosperity. I also appreciate the support of Dr Abidemi Bolarinwa; you are much precious to me Ma. You will never lack anything good in your life. I would also like to show my gratitude to the following people: Tunji Ajibade, Tairu Ọmọtayo, Nafisat Atoke, Dele Ọmọtọlaṣẹ, Funmi Ayilẹka, Yusrah Alakẹ, Iya Akintọmiwa, Baba Idi-Iroko, Iya Fẹmi Amao, TJ Photocopy, Alaga Iyebọde, Kohode Raphel, Hellen, Iya Ṣeyi, Iya Comfort and other menbers of my class, who contributed immensely to the success of this programme; I thank you all.

I am specially grateful to my beauty and my love of inestimable value (AGBEKẸ MI and ABIKẸ MI) for their love, courage and perservarance before, during and after my M.A. programme. You are very sweet and wonderful to me. I pray you shall reap the fruits of your labour and I will forever love you.

Lastly, I appreciate the souls of my parents, who jointly made me believe that life is a must to live, and the best of life is one, live accoding to the will of God, may your souls rest in peace.


Signs, whether consciously or unconsciously use have a semantics implication on the verbal art. Most especially in poetry, signs are used to pass information across to the reader since poetry economises words than other literary form. The signs use in poetry take different forms which may at time need an eclectic literary approach before the proper understanding of such usage. The proper understanding of the signs used in poetry increases the chance of attributing its proper meaning. This would definitely increase the affective application of literature messages in solving societal problems.

The objective of this study is to find out the use of signs in Àtàrí Àjànàkú’s Orin Ewúro.Doing this will explore some hidden information about the sings used. It will also suggest more probable meanings to these signs.

This reseach is library based. The analysis is presented in a descriptive analytical approach. It is able to describe, explain and analyse signs in O rin E wúro based on Yorùbá world view. The analysis draws evidences from oral and written Yorúba materials. The signs in the poems were analysed under eight adopted classifications. These are natural, socio-political, religous, educational, political, economic, literary aesthetic and non-literary aesthetic signs. These were discussed under five chapters. Chapter one is an introduction to the study. The secoǹd chapter is the literature review and the theoretical background. In chapter three and four, signs in Orin Ewúro were analysed using Yorùba semiotic point of view. Chapter five contains the summary, the recommendation and the conclusion of the research work.

At the end of the analysis, the research was able to conclude that the use of signs in poetry is multidimensional. It emphasises that signs could take either of natural, socio-cultural, political, economic, religious, educational, literary and non-literary aesthetics form. It was also able to affirm that there is a need for consideration of contextual factors of poetry before any proper analysis is done on Yorùbá poetry.

Key words : Semiotics, Orin Ewúro, sign and signification

Word count: 339

Chapter 1 Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

Poetry in Yorùbá society performs more than aesthetic function. The reason being that poetry is used in several aspects of Yorùbá culture. Apart from entertaining his audience, the topical issues in the society are very important to the Yorùbá oral poet. This was observed by Ọlatunji (1979:179) when he says. “… society or the audience is most crucial to the discussion of the oral poets….” Accounts from history have shown how Yorùbá oral poets used poetry to effect changes in their societies. Johnson (1921:170-172) gives an account of King Jáyin, the prince of King Kánran, who out of jealousy killed his own prince (Olúsì). Because of their love and care for the murdered prince, the populace organized a national mourning in honour of prince Olúsì. His masquerade was brought out to pay a visit to the palace. Jáyin discovered that the secret of Olúsì’s assassination was already known by the people. He committed suicide before the arrival of the masquerade and its procession. From this point upward, the incident became a proverb, “Ó kù dẹ̀dẹ̀ kí á gbé iwì dé Akẹ̀sán, Ọba Jáyin tẹ́ orí gba aṣọ” (As the masquerading poetic performance is to be brought to Akẹ̀sán, King Jáyin committed suicide). Iwì, which is alluded to above is the masquerade poetic performance, otherwise known as ẹ̀ ṣà egúngún.

Topical issues form an important aspect of the content of almost all Yorùbá oral poetic genres especially those that are categorized by Ọlatunji (1984) as chanting and song modes. The chanting poetry includes ẹ̀ṣà, ìy ẹ̀ r ẹ̀ ifá, ìjálá, àrùngb è , àdàm ọ̀, alám ọ̀ , olele, among others. The examples of song modes are orin agb è , orin b ọ̀ l ọ̀ j ọ̀ , ori n ap ẹ́ p ẹ́ , d ù nd ú n ṣ ẹ̀ k ẹ̀ r ẹ̀ , orin ìrẹ m ọ (lullaby), orin ọ dún ìbíl ẹ̀ (festival songs), orin er é m ọ d é (child play songs) etc. (Ògúndèjì̀ 1991). To buttress the relevance of oral literature in Yorùbá society, Aṣíwájú (1975) while talking particularly on the ẹ̀ f ẹ̀ genre says.

Ẹ̀fẹ̀ songs record not only the events taking place in the community. They also often attempt a philosophical analysis of these events. Consequently, the Kétu, Ọ̀họ̀rí, Ṣábẹ̀ẹ́, Ànàgó and some Ẹ̀gbádò groups use them as standard references. Elders generally cite them like customary proverbs as testimonies to relevant issues in discussions requiring the force of authority (205).

All these features, functions and relevancies of oral poetry are reflected in the Yorùbá written poetry right from its inception in the mid-19th century till the contemporary time.

Ògúndèjì̀ (1992b) following Ọlabimtan (1974) categorises the development of Yorùbá written literature into three phases namely, the phase of translating English literature into Yorùbá, the phase of transcribing Yorùbá Oral Literature and the phase of creation and composition phase of Yorùbá written literature. As regards the inception of Yorùbá written poetry, Ògúndèjì̀ (1992b: 27-37) further explains that after the phase of direct translation of English poetry into Yorùbá which brings about poetry like “Ta ní ṣe Jésù” 1848 and “Jẹ́ Òtítọ́” 1867, the Yorùbá written poetry changes status from the translation phase to transcription of oral poetry phase. The transcription also metamorphosies into creation and composition of new poetic genre. Ògúndèjì̀ continues to say that this also exists in three forms. They are, the composition based mainly on the rhythm and rhym of church hymns and foreign poetic forms, the oral traditions based poetry and lastly those based on combination of traditional and foreign literature. The examples given by Ògúndèjì̀ on later two forms show that right from inception, Yorùbá written poetry is influenced by topical issues as in the oral traditional poetry.

Ṣobọ Arobiodu and Oyeṣilẹ Keribo who pioneered the Yorùbá oral based written poetry (Orin Àrùngbè) between 1901-1920, according to Ògúndèjì̀ (1992b:33), discuss topical issues in their poetry. Ọlatunji (1982) discusses these at length while analysing the source, structure, theme and language style of Ṣobọ Arobiodu poetry. To emphasise the impact of topical issues in Ṣobọ’s poetry, Ọlatunji (1995) states,

The poetry of Ṣowande covers a wide range of topics. In his succinct comments on events and developments in his society, he can be seen as a poet displaying his acute consciousness and most delicate sensibility to the conditions of his time… (976).

The discussion of topical issues extends beyond the Yorùbá oral based written poetry phase. Starting from the year 1921 to the recent years, different topical issues are raised and discussed in Yorùbá written poetry. The notable poet that pioneers this phase of Yorùbá written poetry according to Ògúndèjì̀ (1991) was Ọbasa (1927). Ọdúnjọ, Kọlawọle Ajiṣafẹ, Akinọla Ajao and Afọlabi Johnson also were among early poets that introduced the tradition of topical commentaries in Yorùbá written poetry. Ọlabimtan’s (1975) analysis of Ọbasa’s poetry establishes the fact that Ọbasa not only assembles Yorùbá oral materials but also discusses current and topical issues.

Considering the themes of modern Yorùbá poetry, poets like Adebayọ Faleti, Akinwumi Iṣọla, Afọlabi Ọlabimtan, Ọlatunji Ọpadọtun, Lawuyi Ogunniran, Ọlanrewaju Adepọju, Tunbọsun Ọladapọ, Ọlanipẹkun Ẹsan, Àtàrí Àjànàkú, Kúnlẹ́ Ologundudu, Duro Adeleke, Yẹmisi Adebọwale, Eben Sheba, Arinpe Adejumọ and Bunmi Olujimi have not deviated from the tradition of topical issues discussion. Àtàrí Àjànàkú belongs to the class of modern Yorùbá poets whose poetry is multidimensional. There are lots of socio-political issues raised in his poems. We have chosen to focus this study on a detailed analysis of the semiotic mechanisms of the presentation of these topical themes. There are signs and significations that suggest more than their surface meaning in the poetry (Ori Ewúro). This is because poetry extensively makes use of word economy, a lot of meanings are usually embedded in one another. This makes a poetic expression more encoded than other literary work.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

As noted by Egudu (1977:11), poetry expresses thoughts, ideas, experiences, feelings and emotions. But these functions are not peculiar to it only since other areas of knowledge like history, political science, philosophy, and psychology can equally perform the same. Even at times, they perform it better than poetry. The function of expressing thoughts, beliefs and feelings in poetry may be considered secondary by the western literary scholars but it is important to African people. The current study resulted from our observation about the attitudes of modern poetry readers and students of literature towards poetry. Most of these categories of people pay less attention to the underlying meanings and messages of modern Yorùbá written poetry. As a result, focuses are only paid to the aesthetic aspects, neglecting the message.

This attitude needs to be corrected because the concept of “aesthetics for its own sake” in Nigeria and Africa as a whole is alien (Ògúndèjì̀ 2000:3). This implies that the message in Africa poetry, Yorùbá as an example is of crucial importance. Though the aesthetic is equally important, it is a meaning to an end and not the end in itself. In its attempt to dig deep into the mechanisms of the underlying meanings of poetry, this research chooses to analyse the semiotics of both the messages and aesthetics of Àtàrí Àjànàkú’s Orin Ewúro.

1.3 Objective of the Study

According to Selden (2005), a reader must possess a “Literary competence” in order to read a text as literature. Thus, the act of reading a text as literature requires a literary competence which will take to account every element whether tangible or non-tangible, observable or non-observable, social or non-social, cultural or natural, religious or secular, physical or metaphysical that feature in a literary work. As a result, the current research aims at;

- analysing the content of the poetry Orin Ewúro to identify the topical issues addressed by the poet.
- exploring the signs and significations contained in the poetry and unfolding the messages they signified.
- expatiating the layers of meanings that lie within the lines of the poetry (Orin Ewúro)

To the exponents of structural theory of literature, things, no matter how small or big in literature, are not working in isolation. For this reason, this study would consider all elements which may in one way or the other have contributed to the making of meaning in the poetry (Orin Ewúro.)

1.4 Research Questions

In order to accomplish the objectives of this research, the work would attempt to answer the following questions:

- What are the themes discussed in the content of Orin Ewúro ?
- How does the poet depict his society in the poetry?
- Through which methods does the poet communicate his message to the society and why does he choose such methods?
- How are signs manipulated in the poetry to achieve poetic purposes?

All these among others are questions which this research proposes to answer.

1.5 Significance of the Study

According to Bahadoh and Lasharian (2014), language of poetry is different from language of prose. Consequently, reading of poetry and its structure is also different. From semiotic perspectives, poetry functions through the devices and components specific to it. For this reason, this research aims to do a critical analysis of signs and significations in Orin Ewúro. Doing this would serve the following significant functions:

- It would channel the critical minds of readers to the methods and manners through which Àtàrí Àjànàkú makes meaning in Orin Ewúro.
- It would also serve as a reference point for students of literature and language who may want to analyse signs and significations in poetry.

1.6 Scope of the Study

The research examines the semiotic analysis of Orin Ewúro. Orin Ewúro is a collection of poems written in 1998 by Àtàrí Àjànàkú and published by Sam Bookman Publisher. In 2001 and 2011 , Orin Ewúro was edited and reprinted by Atlantic Books, New Bodija for Ibadan Cultural Studies Group. This is a study edition with brief summaries of each poem and copious notes on difficult words and phrases. The poetry was written in Yorùbá Language. It contains 129 pages and I-XI Roman figures of fore front pages. This includes the title page, author’s page, publisher’s page, table of contents, dedication page and preface. This study covers the 27 poems in the collection including the front cover illustration, the six illustrations within the text and the back cover illustration. The summary and notes at the back of the collection were no doubt very useful for our analysis. The study is however carried out within the context of the written Yorùbá poetry as a sub-discipline of Yorùbá literature.

1.7 Research Methodology

This research is a literary analysis of poetry. It is set to analyse the signs and significations in Orin Ewúro. This analysis would cover the textual and contextual situations of the poetry. The method of the language use of the poet would also be considered in order to examine how he codifies messages in the poetry. The work would consider all factors involved in the making of meanings in the poems of Àtàrí Àjànàkú. Because of the nature of Orin Ewúro, there is a need to consider the history and the situation of the country, Nigeria, before and after the writing of the collection. This will make us understand more on the topical issues discussed in the poetry.

In an attempt to get the work done, we would identify the signs in the poems, classified them into natural, socio-cultural, religious, politicl, economics, educational, literary aesthetic and non-literary aesthetics signs. We would discuss five signs under each type except the religious sign where we would sub classify it into traditional religious and Christian religious signs. In this sub classification, eight signs would be analysed, four under tradional religious and four under Christian religious signs. The signs analysed were selected randomly considering the obviousness of their significations.

We discuss their significations by critically analysing their contents and contexts. The work is primarily library research based. We shall also make use of Yorùbá oral materials like proverbs, Ifá divination genres, riddles, folktales, myths, praise poetry and others which we may consider relevant to this study. Though we have no intention of depending solely on the poet’s views, we shall ask various questions from him to consider his personal views on some of the issues he had raised. The work would be analytical and objective. The research would make use of structralist semiotics and sociological theory of literature as its theoretical framework. The details of this would be given in chapter two. The language of the research is English while the data being analysed is Yorùbá. The research is carried out in Ibadan for academic purpose.

1.8 Limitation of the Study

The major challenges which this research work encounter is the nature of the codification used in the poetry. It may be as a result of the situation of the country during the time of text production whereby everybody especially the social activists are fearful of being punished by the then military Heads of State.The language of the poetry is more of estrangement, this make it difficult to understand some of the codifications used by the poet. But, the explanation of difficult words discussed after the poems make these estrangements understandable.

Another thing is the use of much cross referencing to the contextual situation of the country. A lot of issues were raised which are not self-explanatory unless those issues were related to country’s situations. This requires the use of instances related to country’s situations as can be seen in historical text, cultural text, political and economic text and other literary texts. To us, we consider this as the major area where the messages the text is passing across are embeded. So, we concur in applying all of these to attribute appropriate meanings to the signs analysed.


2.1 The Sociological Importance of Poetry

According to Ogunṣina (2006:6), Literature is concerned with man and his society. It mirrors the society because it seeks to investigate man, his behaviour, his knowledge of himself and the larger universe. By this, literature projects the society in which it is produced. This makes literature a part of the culture of society. Ogunṣina (2006:7) while trying to emphasise the importance of literature in the society quotes Richard Hoggart who says,

Without the full literary witness, the student of society will be blind to the fullness of society.

What this suggests is that literature and society to some extent have a unique relationship. And this is the reason why literature must be studied using sociological approach. To Albrech (1954:246), literature functions as a reflection of society. He also called this function an “expression of society” or “mirror of life”. In an attempt to justify his claim, he defines literature as;

… a record of social experience, an embodiment of social myths, ideals and aims and an organization of social beliefs and sanctions.

All these point to the sociological importance of literature and its relevance to society.

Poetry as a form of literature does not deviate from this root. This was noted by Egudu (1977:4) when he says that since poetry is literature, and literature is the method of expressing beliefs, feelings, ideas and thoughts, therefore, poetry can also be seen as an image of the society. Ọlatunji (1979) in an attempt to explain the role of oral poets in Yorùbá society shows through his analysis of Yorùbá oral poetry data that Yorùbá oral poets are entertainers, custodians of culture, social commentators, political activists, students of history and the advocators of norms. These functions are not limited to oral poets alone, they also extend to the written poets. The reason is not far fetched because the written poetry is an offshoot of the oral form. Since the literates and the oral poets are members of the same society, sharing the same ideology and thought, their discussions on poetry will remain similar. What makes a difference is the medium of their presentation, one is presented in an oral form while the other is in written form.

This was further explained by Olujimi (2007:264). Olujimi while emphasizing the social relevance of Yorùbá poetry expresses that, the Yorùbá poet, literate or non-literate, is acclaimed and appreciated as a social commentator. They are indebted in their work to their society as they draw relevant materials from the community. These raw materials can be issues bordering on politics, social, religious, festivals, events and economy. Olujimi continues that, the poet’s major role is to present lucid happening in his society in any area he decides to treat.

Olujinmi does not stop there, he proceeds by saying that poetry in one way or the other is the expression of socio-political and economic realities of its society. To emphasise this, Olujimi quotes Ọlajubu (1987) who regards poetry as the repository of the collective wisdom of the social, cultural, economic, moral and ethical norms of its society. Among the functions which Olujimi ascribes to poetry is a record of social history. Through the analysis of Yorùbá political poetry from 1955 to the recent years, Olujimi is able to reveal different issues in the economic situation of Nigeria. Among the poetry analysed by Olujinmi (2007) that reveal the trends and issues in Nigeria economy are Adebayọ Faleti’s “Iṣẹ́ Àgbẹ̀”, Adeyinka’s “Epo”, Oyerinde’s “Náírà Ń Rá” and Adeleke’s “Àbùkù kan Ẹ̀wà”. The point which Olujimi emphasises in this analysis is that poetry is not just a work of art but an art for the survival of humanity.

2.2 The Place of Semiotics in Literary Criticism

According to Eco (1976:7), semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as sign. Also, semiotics refers to anything which can be significantly substituting for something else. Eco insists that something does not necessarily have to exist or to actually be somewhere at the moment which a sign stands in for it. In the Dictionary of Semiotics, Martin and Ringham (2000:128) define semiotics as a theory of signification that is of the generation or production of meaning. To Cobley and Jansz (1999:5), the word “Semiotics” comes from the Greek root “Seme”, as in “Semeiotikos” which means an interpreter of signs. So, semiotics as a discipline is simply the interpretation of analysis of signs. In other words it may be seen as the study of the function of sign systems. Cobley and Jansz (1999) mention that one of the most notable debates on signs in the Ancient world occurred between Stoic and Epicureans around 300BCE in Athens. The basis of the argument was concerned with the difference between the natural sign (Free occurring sign throughout nature) and conventional sign (Those designed precisely for the purpose of communication). Plato (428-348BCE) and Aristotle (384-322BCE) were among the precursors of semiotics. During the Stowe era, symptom remained the model of making of meaning in sign studies.

Things were changed in the Middle Age with the teaching of St. Augustine (354-430 BCE). Augustine according to Conbley and Jansz (1999) developed a theory of signa data-conventional signs. Contrary to the classical thought on sign, Augustine promoted the conventional signs as the proper object of philosophical reasoning. The proto-semiotic debate continues until the 20th century when the mature semiotics awareness appears under the two notable schools of thought, Ferdinand de Saussare (1857-1913) and Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914).

As pointed out by Cobley and Jansz (1999), the birth of Ferdinand de Saussure in 1857 was a turning point. The year marks a birth of contemporary semiotics. At the age of nineteen, Saussare had started contributing to the body of language study, particularly linguistics. In 1906, he was sponsored by the University of Geneva to produce landmark studies in linguistics and semiotics. After Saussure’s death in 1913, his students and colleagues strived to reassemble his teachings and thought together through notes they have kept under his tutelage. They published it in 1916, as Cours de linguistique générale . The book focuses on the nature of linguistic sign. In this text, Saussure divides the linguistic sign into two-sided entity. The first is what he calls “Signifier”. To Saussure, signifier is the material component of sign, (Cobley, and Jansz, 1999:10). The second is what he calls “Signified”. He describes signified as what signifier engendered. Because of these components, Saussure postulates the inseparability of the concept of signified (Mental concept) and the signifier (Material aspect) of sign. This was what gives rise to Saussure’s sign diagram:

( Cobley and Jansz, 1999.12)

This diagram is suggestive of Saussure belief that the process of communication requires both the sign and the content of mind. There must be mutual intelligibility between the signifier and the signified, if not, codification may not be possible. This intelligibility is usually a conventional agreement, and it can also be a natural circumstance. To Saussure, sign signifies by the virtue of its difference from other signs. This is what makes it possible to have speech community. Considering Saussure’s thought on semiotics which he called semiology, it is quite obvious that Saussure’s area of sign studies is linguistics. This makes the use of traditional and conventional theories more relevant in his theory of semiotics.

The second notable pioneer school was founded by Charles Peirce, an American born in the year 1839. He was one of foremost American philosopher. His contemporaries from Harvard University include William James, Chauncy Wright and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Before his demise, Charles has steadily constructed his theory of signification called ‘Semiotics’. Peirce spent most of his life elaborating the triadic theory of sign. This is what he called Representamen, Object, and Interpretant.

Cobley and Jansz (1999:22) define Representamen as something that stands for somebody or something in some respect or capacity. To Chandler (2007:148) Representamen is a form which the sign takes but which may not necessarily be a material item. Eco (1976:69) explains that representamen cannot be anything but what represent the validity of an interpretant in a sign system. According to Cobley (2005:28), representamen is something that enters into relationship with its object. Considering these definition, the brightness and the lightness of fire can be taken as a representamen because it suggests the validity of its object. Object in the field of semiotics is defined by Eco (1976:69) as a sign that stands for something with the idea which such thing produces or modifies. Cobley (2005) refers to object as semiotic object, he argues that semiotic object can be identical to the real object. The reason for this according to him is that, Peirce believes that knowledge is absolute. And our knowledge can be no more than an approximation to the real world exactly as it is. So, the semiotic object we smell, taste, touch, hear and see is never identical to the complete nature of such an object. Cobley continues that we cannot understand everything about a phenomenon, our mind is too limited, at times too subtle and complex. Object cannot be completely understood once and for all, it can never be more than semioticaly real for its interpreters. Object interpretation is determined by several factors, these could be cultural, ideological, semic, linguistic, religious, conventional, scientific, among others.

Eco (1976:68) while explaining the concept of interpretant says, interpretant is not an interpreter but what guarantees the validity of a sign even in the absent of the interpreter. To Cobley (2005), interpretant is close to what we usually take as sign’s meaning. Cobley (2005) continues that interpretant relates to and mediate between the representamen and the semiotic object in such a way that it to bring about interrelation between them at the same time and in the same way so as to bring itself into relationship with them. Going by Eco’s explanation, interpreter may not be present before the sense a sign is signifying is projected. Moreover, Cobley mentions that an interpretant can result into another representamen which can further result into several representamen. These can eventually turn into continuous signification. This is what Peirce according to Eco (1976) called unlimited semiosis. These three concepts are referred to as ‘Thrichotonomy of Pierce Theory’, (Hermawan, 2010:23). Eco (1976:59) presents this thrichotonomy as shown below:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In the above diagram, there is an interaction between an object, the form taken by the object, and what the object signified. The interaction between these significations is what Pierce called Semiosis, (Hermawan, 2010:23). The interaction according to Cobley (2005) occurs together simultaneously. It happens at the same time, and one among the three components of semiotic of Pierce theory cannot be undermined. All work, go and are united together in order to produce meaning.

This thrichotonomy according to Cobley and Jansz has three formal aspects (Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness) of phenomena in general. They operate according to their natural status as follow:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(Cobbley and Jansz, 1999.31)

Cobley and Jansz explain further that Qualisign is a representamen that is made up of quality, example of this is colours, i.e colour green, white, blue, red, and black, e.t.c. Sinsign is a representamen that has to do with existing physical reality. Examples are road signs. Legisign according to them is a representamen that is made up of law and rules. Example is the referee’s whistle in a football match.

O’Neill (2008.70) while quoting Peirce defines icon as sign that represent their objects via a direct likeness or similarity. Examples are photographs, pictures, and painting. O’Neill argues that he called them icon because they have iconic representation of the images they represented. This definition is in order with Martion and Ringhams (2000.84), Hermawan (2010.23-24), Eco (1976.178), and Cobley and Jansz (1999.33) definitions of icon. Ògúndèjì̀ (1988.33) moderates this definition in other to differentiate oral form of icon (literary and linguistics) from concrete icon. He, then, considers the literary and linguistics icon as secondary form of signification which must not be misinterpreted for primary iconic signification. Examples of icon Ògúndèjì̀(1988.34) provided include image, photograph, Yorùbá travelling theatre (Egúngún aláré) sketches of Tápà, Òyìnbó (The whiteman), ẹlẹ́ẹ̀kẹ́ dìǹdì (one with mumps), elétí ehoro (one with oversize ears), e.t.c. also see Ògúndèjì̀( 2000, pp20-21).

On the other hand, index according to Martin and Ringham (2000.87) was defined by Peirce as a sign that is physically linked to, or affected by its object.This link or relationship may be casual or sequential. An example they give is the smoke which indicates the fire at its source, a knock at the door which indicates the presence of someone and a temperature which indicates illness. Ògúndèjì̀ (1988.35) also gives an example of ọ̀ pá ọ ba (King’s staff) which suggests the nearness of the King.

Soukhanov (1996) defines symbol as something that represents something else by association of resemblance or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible. To Pierce as identified by Martin and Ringham (2000.139), symbol is the term that denotes a sign (signifier) whose relationship to its object (signified) is entirely arbitrary or based on convention. It is a sign by virtue of law, general ideas, beliefs and thoughts of a particular society (Hermawan, 2010.26). Ògúndèjì̀ (1988.37) when examining the concept of symbolic signification notes that both Saussure and Peirce agree that linguistics signs are the proper examples of symolic significations because most of its significations have no resemblance of objects or the concepts they signified. Looking at the third group of signification, a rheme is a sign of qualitative possibility for the existence of an object. Also, the second one (a Dicent) is a sign which indicates ( for the interpretant) a fact or an evidence of actual existence of an object. Lastly, an argumemt according to Hermawan (2010) is a sign which is understood by people as a sign that stands for a general belief, example is the law of the society. Going by the above explanation, it is observable that the classification is actually the explanation of the forms which signs and significations take withing various fields and aspects of life.

Literature is one of the major aspects of life where signs are codified to pass information either to educate or to entertain the reader. Ògúndèjì, while quoting Eco (1976.57), opines that a text is usually a network of code (or sub-codes) that allows for the production of meaning within addressee/addressee’s socio-cultural experience. Ògúndèjì̀ continues that literary texts are usally poly-semic while non-literary texts tend to be mono-semic. The poly-semic text according to Ògúndèjì̀ is made up of connotative codes while the mono-semic text is made up of denotative code. It should be noted that connotative codes require a deeper semiotics analysis than denotative codes.

Coming down to poetry, there is an extensive use of codification in poetry more than other aspects of literature. According to Riffaterre (1978:1), language of poetry differs from common linguistic usage. Poetry employs words excluded from common usage and has its own special grammar. Riffaterre continues further to show that the difference between poetry and non-poetry is the way by which poetic text carries meaning. He also notes that poetry is peculiarly inseparable from the text. This implies that poetry must be regarded as a close entity, which will make it a system of code so as to differentiate poetic discourse from other literary language. Riffaterre further explains that poetry can employ displacing, distorting and creating of meaning as a method of semantic indirect production. While expressing the importance of unity in poetic discourse, Riffaterre says that from the standpoint of meaning, poetic text is a string of successive information units. While from the standpoint of significance, the text is one semantic unit, so any string within the text will therefore be relevant to poetic quality. Another important thing to note is Riffaterre’s concepts of heuristic and retroactive reading. Riffaterre says that before the reader can understand the semiotic nature of poetry, he must be able to develop the heuristic and retroactive reading competences. Heuristic reading is the first and linguistic interpretation given in reading a text, while retroactive reading is the second reading skill, a truly hermeneutic reading that comes at the end of text studying.

Riffaterre (1978:19) also notes that poetry results from transformation of matrix (minimal and literal sentence) into a longer and complex periphrasis. So, to understand poetic signification, the reader must recognise the form of significations in poetry. The reader needs to understand the matrix of the poem and the model of its presentation. Riffaterre explains further that over representation of matrix can lead to over-determination of poetic meaning and that the concept of poeticity is inseparable from that of the text.

Riffaterre (1978:23) insists that the production of poetic signs is determined by the hierogrammatic derivation. A hypogram is the system of signs that comprise at least a predication through which the matrix is presented in poetry. The author also notes that poetic hypogram has a root called SEME. Seme is the nucleus unit of a poetic sign. It can be distorted, or manipulated to create its variant. The variant created from it will be semantically depended on the root while some will require a poetic technicality before related to the root. Riffaterre also explains that the sign in poetry may be Cliché (word that reader is familiar with) or word that needs other associated words around it (Desriptive system) before it could be understood.

Under the production of poetic signs, Riffaterre (1978:45-6) expatiates that sign in poetry can be produced through the process of expansion and conversion. Expansion is defined by Riffaterre as the process of transforming the matrix sentence into more complex form. He considers expansion as the chief agent of the formation of textual signs. Also Riffaterre emphasises that expansion is the principal generator of poetic signification. To Riffaterre (1978:49) , expansion may be presented in repetitive sequences which may bring about equal or simultaneous source of rhythmic possibility in poetry. He also notes that expansion in most cases is usually more than repetition. One of the prominent examples he gives is the change that occur in the grammatical nature of the model of sentence constituents. Pronoun may be converted into noun, noun into adjective, adjective into relative clauses and so on. All of them can also be expanded from their simple components to a complex representation.

One of the significances of expansion according to Riffaterre (1978.54) is that expansion can transform the abstract language forms especially the grammatical connectives into images. What Riffaterre is explaining here is that through the process of expansion, words that have no semantic or dictionary meaning can be expanded to have a semantic meaning. Also adjectives, conjuctions, negative elements, adverbs e.t.c can be expanded to have concrete meaning while producing poetic sign through the process of expansion.


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Semiotic analysis of Yorùbá written poetry. "Orin Ewúro" by Àtàrí Àjànàkú
University of Ibadan
Yorùbá literature
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Semiotics, Orin Ewúro, sign and signification
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Luqman Kiaribee (Author), 2016, Semiotic analysis of Yorùbá written poetry. "Orin Ewúro" by Àtàrí Àjànàkú, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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